It’s no accident that Reformation Day and Halloween fall on the same day. It was actually by design.
The 31st of October was the night before All Saints Day and came to be known as All Hallows Eve—the origin of our Halloween. It was a time when people were particularly focused on remembering their loved ones who had died—and being worried about their loved one’s souls.
Early on in the life of the church, churches began to celebrate the lives of the heroes of the faith (the saints) on the first of November. Later, some congregations began to use November 2 as a day to pray for souls of those who didn’t quite qualify for sainthood. While the saints got to go directly to heaven, most regular folks entered purgatory first.
The concept of purgatory was made official church doctrine at the 1274 Council of Lyons. The council wrote that Christians who had not shown sufficient repentance for their sin needed to be “cleansed by purgatorial punishments.” And then (and here’s the kicker) they added that purgatory could be relieved for oneself AND for others who had died through going to mass, praying, giving money (alms) and other acts of piety.
You see where this was headed. People were in a constant state of fear wondering if they had gone to mass enough, prayed enough and paid enough to get into heaven. They also (especially at this time of year) spent time worrying about whether or not they had done enough to get those they love into heaven. That’s no way to live.
By the time Martin Luther came along, All Saints and All Soul’s day were big fundraising days for the church.
Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses were particularly focused on the practice (and corruption) of this money (called indulgences back in the day). Specifically, indulgences were being sold for financial gain, as well as giving people a false assurance of salvation. So October 31st, the eve of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, a time which emphasized the distinction between the souls of “saints” and the souls of everyone else, as well as the need for money to make ensure the well-being of those souls, was the perfect time to post them on the church door.
Luther’s call for reform came to be known as the Five Solas, (or slogans)
Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
Sola fide (faith alone)
Sola gratia (grace alone)
Solus Christus (Christ alone)
Soil Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone)
Halloween is the perfect time to celebrate that we do not have to live with the burden of trying to be good enough. We don’t have to worry that our loved ones who have gone before us didn’t pray enough or pay enough to get into heaven. Because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, we don’t have to be afraid–even on Halloween.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.